Terminator: Dark Fate was intended to get a franchise that has gone astray back on track - but so far the reviews have been mixed. Directed by Tim Miller, Dark Fate is a direct sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day that ignores all the other movies that followed that one, resetting the continuity. The Terminator and Terminator 2 director James Cameron returned in a producer role, and Linda Hamilton is also back as Sarah Connor.
22 years after the bombs were originally supposed to fall, the world is still intact and Skynet remains destroyed. However, Terminator: Dark Fate envisions a new and equally terrible future for mankind, as the machines still ultimately rise up and massacre billions. A cybernetically-enhanced human called Grace is sent back from this future to protect a young woman called Dani, who is being targeted by a new kind of Terminator called the Rev-9. Sarah Connor and a T-800 also once again join the fight, to try and stop a future where the machines wipe out humanity altogether.
Though early reactions to Terminator: Dark Fate were mostly positive, the reviews have been more mixed. The movie currently has a score of 69% on Rotten Tomatoes - the same score as the first attempt at a Judgment Day sequel, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. It also seems to be facing a similar fate to Terminator: Genisys at the box office, grossing just $27.1 million in its opening weekend. Here are takes from a few critics explaining why they were underwhelmed by the Terminator franchise's attempt to turn over a new life.
Performances across the board are game and committed, with Davis and Hamilton evident standouts, but it’s hard to get too excited about a film that, while returning to the founding, chase-picture premise of the franchise, appears to have been algorithmically conceived and directed by an AI filmmaking-chip that somehow made it out of the Skynet lab back in 1991.
Dark Fate recycles images, visual effects and even dialogue from the previous movies, including lines that have been uttered so many times in so many other pop-culture contexts that they now elicit groans within the confines of an actual Terminator setting. Sure, it’s great to see Linda Hamilton back, swaggering and kicking ass in the defining role of her career as Sarah Connor. But now she’s the one who gets to say “I’ll be back” (it’s hilarious!) as well as some other painfully clunky lines like: “I hunt Terminators. And I drink ‘til I black out.” Hamilton deserves better.
It’s different pieces playing the same game of chess – our heroes save us from mechanical overlords, someone will be back, rinse, repeat... Dark Fate checks all the franchise boxes, including killer robots, Arnie and plenty of action set pieces, from a highway dump-truck chase to airborne jetliners crashing into each other. Strip away all that and there's just not much left.
Basically replaying the famous elements from T1 and T2 with some new actors, new twists, newish attitudes to sexual politics, famous lines slightly changed... The Terminator franchise has come clanking robotically into view once again with its sixth film – it absolutely will not stop – not merely repeating itself but somehow repeating the repetitions.
Many reviewers seem to feel that Terminator: Dark Fate's determination to return to the franchise's roots has left it stuck in the ground, merely recycling the plots of the first two movies instead of doing something new. Skynet is now Legion, the shape-shifting super-Terminator is now the Rev-9 instead of the T-1000, and the everywoman character targeted by the machines is a factory worker rather than a waitress. Still, other critics felt that Dark Fate does enough to distinguish itself - or at least make for an entertaining enough ride:
It’s fun to watch Schwarzenegger play backup to three formidable women — each one hailing from a different “Terminator” time frame, and one of them a Latina who represents the gravest possible threat to our fascist future... Sometimes it doesn’t take much to revitalize a dead intellectual property. Sometimes all it takes is a movie in which “Hasta la vista, baby” isn’t the extent of the characters’ Spanish.
Dark Fate feels like a real Terminator movie at last, from the breakneck, deeply terrifying chase that opens it to its moving finale... As familiar lines are spun in new ways and we build to a heavy metal clash of a finale, this occasionally leans too heavily on the homage but mostly, remarkably, feels like a worthy descendant rather than a cheap cash-in.
Terminator: Dark Fate is a movie designed to impress you with its scale and visual effects, but it’s also a film that returns, in good and gratifying ways, to the smartly packaged low-down genre-thriller classicism that gave the original Terminator its kick. The new movie earns its lavish action (and its emotions, too), because no matter how violently baroque its end-of-days vision, its storytelling remains tethered to the earth.
Audiences do seem to be a little more enamored with Terminator: Dark Fate than critics, if its 85% audience score is anything to go by. If you're simply looking for a good time with robots, explosions, and epic highway chases, then the consensus seems to be that Dark Fate is worth seeing - even if it doesn't exactly reinvent the franchise.